On Becoming

Jamie Brisick's turn from professional surfing to writing through music, sport, and loss

By Michael Adno for At Large (Available online here)

Nestled along the rim of Los Angeles’ Simi Valley, skirting the Santa Monica Mountains, lies Westlake Village, halfway between Hollywood and Oxnard, California. Jamie Brisick grew up here near the end of a housing development; the kind that has come to define the suburban American landscape — garages, thirsty sidewalks, and station wagons. South through the canyons that spill out onto the Malibu coastline are a series of points around which waves bend, forming long, open-faced walls. These famed point breaks — as surfers call them — hold their own Hollywood-esque aura. Ages of seismic shifts have formed the ocean’s bathymetry and blessed Malibu with smooth, round cobblestones and thumbs of sand, forming First Point’s sought-after walls, a wave where surfing luminaries planted seeds that still take root today. This place has served as the site for some of surfing’s brightest moments; the shift from ancient to modern surfing, outsider to mainstream, and culture to sport.

Brisick came of age along the ins and outs of sand and stone, born at Hollywood Presbyterian on September 17, 1966. His first memorable encounter with surfing came during a family trip to Oahu, Hawaii, where he and his brothers took a surf lesson. “We rented soft tops and went out at Waikiki, which is such a long, forgiving wave. And I remember just streaking along and there was this yellow, phallic thing sticking out, turquoise water, and I’m watching the reef go by, and out of the corner of my eye there’s Diamond Head and the pink of The Royal Hawaiian. It’s warm. And I was like: This is so fantastic! We surfed everyday. We got sunburned, nipple-rashed, and I remember being back in the hotel, laying in bed, and the rides flashing back so vividly, a sort of afterglow. It was so magical.”

At fourteen, Brisick entered his first surf contest. Driving home up the hills that day his prized trophy sat on his lap like a new puppy, his smile glowing in the brass plate incised with “Second Place.” After that first result, surf companies took notice, and he had a whole host of mentors leading him down the path toward professional surfing, teaching him how to make the final heats, to assuage sponsors, and ultimately to make the World Tour of Surfing — the pinnacle of professionalism.

Coming from white-bread suburbia in the eighties, nothing was more infectious to a young Angeleno than Dogtown’s Zephyr skate team. Brisick explains, “I loved how crazy they were. I loved how it was this all-embracing culture of all misfitted, strange, broken home kids that were all in this world.” That milieu of skateboarding, surfing, bad luck and punk rock was enormous in his early conception of professional surfing. The no bullshit ethos reigned supreme. The melting pot of Los Angeles focused into a ten-space car park strewn with sand, a mix of movie producers and construction workers. Hollywood chic meets blue-collar canyon types. Brisick reminisces, “I feel so lucky to have grown up there.” But when he took to competing, “It was almost the opposite.” The enigmatic cool of diverse, unlikely surfers molted into what was a full boar jock culture.

Read the entire profile online at At Large.